American Innocence

by Saori Takeda

Work by Native Americans dating from the late 19th to early 20th century comprise scenes of ceremonial life and courtship. A record of life drawn out in notebooks – currently on view at Donald Ellis Gallery in New York City.

“Outsider Art Fair,” featuring works of artists without any specialized formal art education, took place in Chelsea, New York, at the end of January 2018. Unlike the typical art fair, Outside Art Fair offers work made in contexts outside of orthodox art history; its art approaches more closely pure, individual expression. As such, it is not overworked; it is relaxed without trying to achieve a high level of technical sophistication; and it is (inherently) interesting.

A man wrestles with a giant rat; primates couple in complete oblivion to the swirl of life around them; a woman gives birth on the subway floor; a wolf suckles a baby; pigeons strut around and observe, passing no judgment on the disorder they inhabit.

Jordan MacLachlan’s “Unexpected Subway Living” asks us to imagine the idea: What if you were to live on the subway? It is an image play and enjoyable. MacLachlan’s artwork is devoted to exploring the many different ways of being. She believes that where we live determines how we live.

Several of the famous series from “In The Realms of the Unreal” by Henry Darger were also on display. Darger made a living as a cleaning clerk at a hospital and lived a life removed from society. He did not intend to show his work to anyone, and none of it was released until after his death. Darger’s way of perceiving the world was unique and extremely free.

Similarly, Fleisher Ollman was uninhibited in his expression. His work pictured seems to show a forest emerging from the soil. Ollman did not care about perspective, and in the vein of Cubism, packed each work with many possible vantage points.

Paul Humphrey, a taxi driver in Vermont, began painting at age 57. “Sleeping Beauties” is a series depicting 42 sheets of the same lady’s sleeping face. I thought to myself, “Why did he draw 42 versions of the same person in sleep?” However, I could only come up with one answer: “He just wanted to draw.”

The many viewing the exhibition seemed happy to be surrounded by these works filled with American innocence. Perhaps that is exactly what the art scene needs — an injection of power from “The Outsiders.”

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Saori is an art journalist based in New York and Tokyo, specializing in interviews with art fairs on the east coast of the USA, street Culture in Tokyo, US and Japanese galleries, and artists. Saori has been a staff writer for Fashion at the independent paper The Asahi Shimbun, The NY Times of Japan, for 23 years, covering fashion shows in Paris, Milan, London, and New York. Saori pioneered a bilingual magazine (in English and Japanese), a first in Japan. Currently, she is writing novels and essays with feminist themes.



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